Delany claims place in Collegiate Athlete hall of Fame

Inaugural awards celebrate the 100th staging of the famed National Collegiate Athletic Association track and field championships

To help mark and celebrate the 100th staging of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NACA) track and field championships in Eugene, Oregon this week they’ve selected the names of 30 past winners and inducted them into the inaugural Collegiate Athlete Hall of Fame.

Names like Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph, Jim Ryun, Henry Rono, Steve Prefontaine, Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner and Merlene Ottey. Ronnie Delany is in there among those 30 names too, the sole Irish recipient of what is immediately and abundantly evident to be one of the highest accolades in the sport.

The United States Track and Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) hosted the induction ceremony at the Hult Centre for the Performing Arts in Eugene on Monday evening, ahead of the NCAA championships which get underway on Wednesday at Hayward Field on the campus of the University of Oregon – the same venue for the World Athletics Championships next month.

Each of the 30 names were chosen solely on their accomplishments while a collegiate athlete: between them they won 205 individual NCAA titles, also breaking 99 world records or winning 19 Olympic gold medals, in or out of college. Some indication perhaps of the always red-hot competition.


Delany’s NCAA career was indeed stellar, winning four individual outdoor titles during his four years at Villanova University from 1955-58, during which time he also won Olympic 1,500 metres gold in Melbourne 1956. In his final year he completed an 880 yard/mile double, after winning the mile and finishing second in the 880 yard in 1957: those points helped secure Villanova their first and only NCAA outdoor team title.

“My favourite memory of the NCAA championships, well obviously the first one, but it was great to win the mile and half-mile double,” Delany told the Eugene audience from his home in Dublin. “Especially when maybe you got a half-hour between races, and in those days you know nothing about dehydration, rehydration, it was win or bust.”

Marcus O’Sullivan, current head track and field coach at Villanova, collected the award on Delany’s behalf, his best NCAA placing being second in the 1,500m in 1984. O’Sullivan is not alone in being one of Ireland’s best athletes to fall short of an outdoor title, John Treacy, Noel Carroll and Mark Carroll among them too.

Only four Irish-born men achieved the feat; Delany, John Lawlor (twice in the hammer) Eamonn Coghlan (twice in the 1,500m) plus Frank O’Mara. Sean Dollman and Alistair Cragg, both South African born before declaring for Ireland, also won three, Cragg the last of them with his 10,000m title in 2004.

Oregon also hosts only the 40th staging of the women’s championships, beginning in 1982 in Provo, Utah, and in the four decades since just three Irish women have won outdoor titles; Sonia O’Sullivan winning the 3,000m, also for Villanova, in 1990 and 1991, Valerie McGovern winning the 5,000m in 1990 and later Mary Cullen in 2006.

No Irish woman has even made the final of a sprint event, only that’s poised to change in Eugene over coming days when Rhasidat Adeleke makes her second NCAA outdoor appearance for the University of Texas. (Men’s events are staged Wednesday and Friday, women’s events Thursday and Saturday.)

Still two months shy of 20, and in her second year at college, Adeleke is one of 14 women from the Texas track and field team to qualify, and one of only four in three separate events – the 200m, plus the 4x100m and 4x400m relay.

They’ll certainly fancy their chances to impact on both relay finals, Adeleke sticking to the individual 200m for now, despite breaking the Irish senior 400m record in her first individual 400m this summer, clocking 50.70.

Texas head coach Edrick Floréal, a two-time Olympian for Canada in the long and triple jump, has spoken about his desire “not to run the hell out” of Adeleke as she progresses through her NCAA career, and holding her back from the individual 400m for now is evidence of that. Adeleke still has two more years to go after that title.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics